United Academics Press Release – July 10, 2015

The State of Oregon’s decision to boost higher education in Oregon is a deeply welcome turnaround from years of cuts to state funding. Faculty from United Academics worked with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT-OR) and American Association of University Professors (AAUP-OR), to shore up support for our state’s universities. We worked with legislators, the Higher Education Coordinating Committee (HECC), and the governor, explaining how academic excellence and access to quality higher education for the next generation of Oregonians requires improving public support. On this, we lobbied in sync with the University of Oregon administration.

However, while UO’s top administrators praised Salem’s decision to give Higher Ed more money, and welcomed the changes to the HECC formula that increased UO’s share of this money, the administration then went to the faculty in today’s bargaining session and reiterated what amounts to a proposal to cut the faculty’s real wages. Despite the good news from the state, the administration is offering a 1% raise in 2016 (delayed until mid-way through the academic year) and a 2% pool for merit raises in 2017. This is just 0.5% more than they were offering back in May, and with local inflation running at about 2.5% a year, it’s a cut to real faculty wages.

The administration’s own analyses show the productivity of the UO faculty. For example, in terms of Bachelor degrees awarded per tenure-related faculty employed in 2011, the UO stood at 5813 degrees awarded per 1000 faculty compared to an average of 4116 for all AAU public universities, and UO’s graduation rates are the highest of all of Oregon’s universities.

“Those graduation rates impressed the heck out of the HECC, because the faculty here work the long hours teaching, grading, advising, and mentoring, all while balancing important research projects. The faculty’s work with students needs to be recognized and rewarded in salaries,” says Michael Dreiling, President of United Academics.

“We trust and understand that most of this money will fill in a variety of fiscal needs and we hope a lot goes to support student scholarships. But if they are not going to spend some of this money on the faculty as well, where will it go? For more overpaid coaches, strategic communicators and administrators?” asks Karen McPherson, Vice President with United Academics.

About 350 faculty recently signed a petition calling on the Board of Trustees to focus UO’s priorities on instructional excellence for our students and on research excellence at this flagship university. The petition is here. We look forward to working with President Schill to move the instructional and research mission at the UO to the front and center as we elevate the long-term academic reputation of this great university.

Sign the Petition: Budgeting for UO’s Academic Reputation

Budgets reflect and set priorities. Unfortunately, UO’s investments in our core academic mission remain uninspiring. Our institution needs a reminder from those of us who do the teaching and research that the university’s budget needs recalibration, not talk of austerity for academics while athletic department was top in the nation on revenues last year. This makes no sense.

In an effort to communicate our concern about budget priorities, United Academics has written up a petition, addressed to Susan Gary, the faculty representative on the UO Board of Trustees.

We want every UO faculty member who sees this note to read and sign our petition, then share it widely. Together, we can reinforce a positive change to uphold and renew the UO’s long-term academic standing.

Link to petition: http://goo.gl/forms/LYt8i8CINQ

Final petition with signatures can be found here.

Statement on the University Administration’s Economic Proposal

First, we’d like to thank Jamie Moffitt, Vice President for Finance and Administration, for her presentation at bargaining today. Jamie presented a wealth of information that will inform our bargaining in the coming months. A small group from the bargaining team had the opportunity to meet with Jamie last month to discuss what kind of information we thought would be helpful to have presented, and we appreciate that she focused on the areas we discussed in that meeting.

Even so, the university administration’s actual economic proposal was, in our view, insulting. Our proposal would provide raises to address the rising cost of living, reward meritorious teaching, research, and service, and address our ongoing equity problem. The university administration’s proposal accomplishes none of these things.

They are offering faculty no raise at all next year and less than 1% merit raise in 2016-2017. Bargaining unit faculty may not even see the full 1%, as the university administration proposed that deans would control 20% of the paltry 1% raise and could distribute it at their “sole discretion.” We have several concerns about their proposal.

First, their proposal does nothing to keep pace with the cost of living. The Bureau of Labor Statistics measured the increase in the consumer price index for our region at 2.4% last year. The annual cost of living increase has averaged 2.28% since 2010. At that average, faculty need 4.56% raises just to keep up with inflation.

Second, a 1% merit raise in the second year does not adequately reward merit or recognize excellence.

Third, their proposal addresses neither our internal nor our external equity issues. While some departments and units have caught up to their comparators across the country, several others lag far behind. Compression and inversion still bedevil many departments and units, and the administration’s proposal would only exacerbate these problems. The university administration’s proposal also ignores our ongoing gender equity problem.

So, we still have a lot of work to do. The university administration’s proposal is not close to adequate, nor did they propose anything to address our ongoing problems. They said they were willing to talk, but so far they have offered no solutions. There will need to be many conversations. These conversations will unfold over the course of the coming months. We will, as always, keep you informed—and we count on hearing from you as well.

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Quality higher education requires investment

The Board of Trustees of the University of Oregon recently approved a new Mission Statement for the University. Its first line declares that the UO “is a comprehensive public research university committed to exceptional teaching, discovery, and service.” The university faculty are primarily responsible for carrying out this core mission. Research and teaching stand at the center of our professional work. Investing in teaching and research excellence builds the long-term academic reputation of a university, something that carries far more value to parents, students, and alums than any other type of branding work.

One indicator of our success in our mission is the university’s membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU), a collection of 62 research universities across the United States and Canada. The AAU only admits universities that demonstrate a serious commitment to research, graduate training, and undergraduate education. One of the yardsticks the AAU uses to measure a university’s commitment to excellence is its ability to recruit and actively retain an excellent faculty.

The academic labor market works like many others. Universities compete to attract bright scholars to their campus by offering them a variety of inducements, from research labs with the latest technology to the prospect of working with the best graduate students. Unfortunately, when it comes to salaries the University of Oregon consistently ranks near the bottom. This hurts our ability to recruit new scholars who bring new energy, new ideas, and new research ideas to campus.

It also undercuts our ability to retain the excellent faculty we do have. Each year, faculty members are poached from the UO to institutions that better support their faculty. Replacing those faculty is costly and takes precious time away from our research, teaching, and students.

Higher education in Oregon has struggled in the last few decades with declining fiscal support from the state. As state support has dwindled, Oregon’s community colleges and universities have taken the brunt of funding cuts. According to the 2014 State Higher Education Finance Report, Oregon now ranks near the bottom—47th out of 50—in public spending per student. The UO has made up for declining state support by raising tuition, relying on students to borrow in order to pay for what used to be considered a public responsibility. At risk from these cuts is a legacy of high quality, affordable higher education for all Oregonians. With overall student debt at over 1.3 trillion dollars in the United States—more than all credit card debt combined—we are fast reaching the limit on the new dollars we can reasonably ask students to spend on public higher education. And yet, our core mission and our responsibility to affordable, quality higher education in Oregon are as important as ever.

We believe that sustaining excellent universities for the state of Oregon requires finding ways to avoid tuition increases while committing fully to the excellent faculty who are necessary for fulfilling our core mission. The absence of a robust state budget for higher education is the greatest challenge facing the University of Oregon, but it is no excuse for not prioritizing the investments that serve the university’s academic mission. We urge our state legislators and the UO Board of Trustees to reinvest in our children’s future, so that we can maintain the excellence demanded of an AAU institution and elevate the academic reputation of our great university.

Over the coming months, United Academics, the union representing 1,800 faculty at the university, and the administration will be engaged in a conversation about investing the resources we have to address this challenge. The union has proposed a wage package that would bring salaries more in line with AAU comparator institutions, making the UO more competitive by investing in faculty who fulfill the university’s core academic mission. We have ideas on how to do this with minimal impact on budgets.

How we resolve this issue may well determine whether we can live up to the goals of the mission the Board of Trustees has set for our university and the future of higher education in the state of Oregon.

 

Michael Dreiling

President, United Academics of the University of Oregon, AAUP-AFT Local 3209, AFL-CIO